10 February 2022

Angelina Jolie urges Senate to renew Violence Against Women Act with daughter Zahara by her side

10 February 2022

A bipartisan group of US senators have introduced a proposal to renew the 1990s law which extends the protection for sexual and domestic violence victims, after it lapsed in 2019 because of Republican opposition.

Senator Dick Durbin announced a bill to renew the Violence Against Women Act alongside his Democratic and Republican colleagues, who were joined by domestic violence survivors and actor and advocate Angelina Jolie

“For those who have given up hope on the United States Senate functioning, passing important laws, working together on a bipartisan basis, take a look behind me,” Mr Durbin said.

The reason that many people struggle to leave abusive situations is that they’ve been made to feel worthless

Jolie said the stakes are high.

“This is one of the most important votes you will cast this year in the Senate,” she said.

The last time the law was renewed was in 2013.

Republicans have since blocked the legislation from passing in the Senate over a provision that would ban people convicted of misdemeanour stalking from possessing guns, which generated opposition from the National Rifle Association.

That provision was excluded as part of the deal.

The Hollywood star said many people struggle to leave abusive situations because they are made to feel worthless (AP) (AP)

Jolie, who was joined by her adopted daughter Zahara Jolie-Pitt, 17, for the trip to the capital, gave an emotional speech.

“Standing here at the centre of our nation’s power, I can think only of everyone who has been made to feel powerless by their abusers, by a system that failed to protect them,” she said.

“The reason that many people struggle to leave abusive situations is that they’ve been made to feel worthless.

“When there is silence from a Congress too busy to renew the Violence Against Women Act for a decade, it reinforces that sense of worthlessness.”

The law, first introduced in the Senate in 1990 by President Joe Biden when he was a senator from Delaware, aims to reduce domestic and sexual violence and improve the response to it through a variety of grant schemes.

A subsequent version was eventually included in a sweeping crime bill which then-President Bill Clinton signed into law four years later.

Congress has reauthorised the Violence Against Women Act three times since.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California have been working on the plan to extend the law with 60 votes since 2019 and believe this time they can make it happen.

“I have full confidence that this is going to pass in the Senate,” Ms Ernst, a survivor of domestic violence, told reporters.

“And I know that there were provisions that we didn’t get into the bill. And I have said all along that the point is not for it to be a political football to use as a tool during campaigns.”

She said while Democrats are not happy without the inclusion of the provision to restrict firearms from potential abusers, what’s important now is to get something at least 60 senators can agree on “and then come back and keep working on the issues that we haven’t been able to solve yet.”

Combatting domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking should not be a Democratic issue or Republican issue

Mr Durbin, the Democrats’ chief vote-counter, said the Senate is “perilously” close to reaching that threshold of support.

Mr Biden, the architect of the act, applauded the bipartisan group.

“Combatting domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking should not be a Democratic issue or Republican issue,” the president said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It’s a matter of justice and compassion. I am grateful that this critical bipartisan bill is moving forward, and I look forward to Congress delivering it to my desk without delay.”

The original bill created the Office on Violence Against Women within the Justice Department, which has awarded more than $9 billion (£6.63 billion) in grants to state and local governments, charities and universities over the years.

Supporters said the reauthorisation would also boost spending for training police officers and the courts.

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